West Elm preps for expansion from home furnishings to hotels

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A rendering of a West Elm hotel guestroom.
A rendering of a West Elm hotel guestroom.

Home-furnishings retailer West Elm will spend 2017 honing its approach as it prepares to enter the hotel business, as Williams-Sonoma's affordable-modern division looks to broaden its exposure beyond its retail stores.

West Elm, which last fall announced its intention to expand its brand into hotels, is avoiding the so-called larger "gateway" U.S. cities for its initial offerings, instead focusing on secondary markets such as Detroit, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Savannah, Ga.

The hotels, slated to debut in 2018, will be developed and managed by DDK (whose principals have worked for Andre Balazs Properties) and will range from 150 to 175 rooms.

Room rates at the hotels, whose furnishings and artwork will be available for purchase online, will be that of "a midmarket player," said Peter Fowler, vice president of hospitality and workspace at West Elm.

"We believe there is a meaningful gap in the hotel market," Fowler said, adding that the properties will include works from local artists to better reflect their location.

"West Elm Hotels will offer a differentiated experience from the major hotel chains and the geographically limited specialty players."

West Elm and DDK will make the hotels full-service properties that will include restaurants and bars.

The planned hotel division would not be West Elm's first brush with the hospitality industry.

Last year, the brand, which Williams-Sonoma launched in 2002, began a partnership with Marriott International's SpringHill Suites brand that included West Elm's furnishings in all SpringHill lobbies and in the guestrooms of 30 new SpringHill hotels.

The West Elm furniture will be in all new and renovated SpringHill properties starting in 2017.

The West Elm brand has picked up momentum, opening 10 stores in the third quarter alone to bring its total to 97 (William-Sonoma's flagship brand and Pottery Barn each have more than 200 stores). The chain's third-quarter revenue rose 12% from a year earlier, the fastest rate among Williams-Sonoma's divisions.

Looking to 'lifestyle'

The company is also looking to take advantage of the increased popularity in all things that imply lifestyle in the lodging industry.

This year, bookings through American Express Travel for "lifestyle-inspired, design-focused" U.S. hotels are up more than 30% from a year ago, said Claire Bennett, the company's executive vice president, speaking on a travel-industry panel last month.

"Niche is nice," Bennett said. "Lifestyle, fashion, fitness, culinary and design brands are latching onto the growing demand of customized travel and highly personalized experiences based on their founding product and catering to fans of their brand aesthetic and promise in the travel space."

Other consumer-goods brands, particularly on the luxury end, have put their flag on hotels. But whether West Elm will be joined by other major home-furnishings chains remains to be seen.

In 2013, Marriott International said it would partner with Ikea on the development of Marriott's fledgling Moxy badge, but Marriott spokeswoman Victoria Hart confirmed to Travel Weekly last month that there is no longer a relationship between the two companies (Netherlands-based real-estate investment company Vastint, which owns several Moxy properties in Europe, is a former sister company to Ikea).

Meanwhile, Crain's reported last year that Restoration Hardware is planning a 14-room boutique hotel in Manhattan's Meatpacking District that will double as a showroom of sorts.

A Restoration Hardware representative declined to comment.

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